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Gilbert O'Sullivan: Remaking Irishman's Image

Source: Philadelphia Inquirer

Writer: Jack Lloyd Lloyd

Date: Aug 1972

The "new" album of O'Sullivan, "Himself" (MAM Records) is billed as the young Irishman's debut LP, and in a sense this is correct. But in reality, "Himself" is the second coming of Gilbert's O'Sullivan's debut.


The LP is actually a repacked, slightly revamped version of an album that MAM Records released about a year ago.  An album that had more than a little merit, but was generally ignored. A couple of things have happened since then.


O'Sullivan recently hit pay dirt in this country with a hit single titled "Alone Again Naturally." Well, naturally, a follow-up album was in order, and since O'Sullivan already had an album hardly anyone knew about, everything was simply wonderful.


Accept it was obviously decided that the early image presented on the initial release would have to go.


Gilbert O'Sullivan was pictured as something right out of a Dublin pub.  A honest-to-goodness Workingman's hero.  This was clearly a problem in the selling of Gilbert O'Sullivan, but the man In charge of the selling knows something about selling.  He's Gordon Mills, who also manages a couple of guys named Tom Jones and Engelbert Humperdinck.


And so the new Gilbert O'Sullivan is being presented with a little more glamour. He's been sent to a hair stylist and someone told O'Sullivan to pick up a few new threads.  Nothing far-out, one way or another.  But now at least he doesn't look like a fugitive from the I.R.A.


So much for the making of a pop star. What counts is O'Sullivan's abilities once you get beyond the image. And these are considerable.  He is, in fact, the most imaginative writer to come along since Randy Newman.


The form O'Sullivan prefers is old-fashioned pop, rather than contemporary rock.  On the surface, his music is light and frothy, with heavy orchestration.  It would be easy to listen to the music and pass O'Sullivan off as a mildly pleasing but minor performer.


But get beyond this and you discover an adventurous lyricist - a man who writes music because it is a means of getting things off his chest.  Those, for instance, who paid attention to the words in "Alone Again Naturally", know that this is a desperate song about a man who is seriously contemplating suicide.  Not exactly the sort of thought that usually goes into pop hits.


"Alone Again Naturally", incidentally, is the only song on the new album that was not included in the initial release.


Although much of Gilbert O'Sullivan's music is moody and even visionary, he is not without a sense of humour in pondering the tribulations of life.  "Permissive Twit" which deals with the delicate trauma of pregnancy out of wedlock - is a prime example.


O'Sullivan is totally new, fitting into no particular bag. And while this is refreshing, one must wonder just what segment of a bag-conscious mass audience will accept his unique approach - a predicament that still plagues even Randy Newman to a certain extent.